Friday, July 17, 2009

At long last - proof that writers are indeed mad !

I have long maintained that you have to be mad in order to consider writing as a career, and now it seems that science has proven a link between a genetic mutation linked to psychosis and schizophrenia also influences creativity.

The team, headed by Szabolcs Kéri, a researcher at Semmelweis University in Budapest, examined a gene involved in brain development known as called neuregulin 1, which previous studies have linked to a slightly increased risk of schizophrenia. A single DNA letter mutation that affects how much of the neuregulin 1 protein is made in the brain has been linked to psychosis, poor memory and sensitivity to criticism (just think of all those rejection letters and bad reviews). About 50 per cent of healthy Europeans are thought to carry this mutation, while 15 percent possess two copies.

Kéri genotyped 200 adults who responded to adverts seeking volunteers. The volunteers took part in two tests of creative thinking, and devised an objective score of their creative achievements, such as filing a patent or writing a book.

People with two copies of the mutation – which turned out to be about 12 percent of the study, scored notably higher on these measures of creativity against those with one or no copies of the mutation. Those with one copy were judged as more creative, on average, than those without. The mutation explained between 3 and 8 per cent of the differences in creativity, the study found. All is not roses however, as those with two copies of the mutation were also more likely to experience traits such as paranoia, strange speech patterns and "inappropriate emotions", whatever that means.

Kéri speculates that the mutation dampens the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that controls mood and behaviour. Intelligence could also be one factor that determines whether the mutation affects creativity or contributes to psychosis. Kéri's volunteers did tend to be more intelligent than average (as writers of course also are, strictly tongue in check you understand - especially those who write non fiction!). In contrast, another study of families with a history of schizophrenia (which mine has - my sister suffers from the disease) found that the same mutation was associated with lower intelligence and psychotic symptoms (it must have skipped the youngest sibling - guess who that would be).

A Kéri says, "My clinical experience is that high-IQ people with psychosis have more intellectual capacity to deal with psychotic experiences, it's not enough to experience those feelings, you have to communicate them." This has always been the problem my sister has had, the inability to express what she is thinking and feeling. This is one of the reasons that writing is so important and beneficial to me, for it has always provided an outlet, from childhood for me to write about my innermost thoughts and feelings, many of which I was unable to share with anyone (until that is I met my partner).

Other scientists concur with the suggestion that the genes effects may be linked to intelligence, but this doesn't mean that the two go hand in hand, and psychosis and creativity are the same thing, for madness is madness, which I personally feel is linked more to nurture than nature.

The full article can be read here.


Nadine Laman said...

heh, heh, heh...yep!

June said...

Need I say more !